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Broadway values on the rise

Dispatch/Argus Photo By Todd Mizener

Jeff and Tracy Woods and their two sons, Graham, left and Kade, show the inside of their historic home in Rock Island's Broadway Historic District.

ROCK ISLAND -- Jeff and Tracy Woods love their Rock Island home as much as the Broadway Historic District they moved into.

The young couple left Moline last May to buy the old, two-story house at 845 22nd St., from the Rock Island Economic Growth Corp.

``We'd lived in Moline for three years and thought no way we'd move to Rock Island,'' Mr. Woods said. ``But, when we started our research, we found that Rock Island has tried really hard to reduce its crime rate and has done a good job. We feel really good here.

``I want young families to come to this area,'' Mr. Woods continued. ``It needs families who want a sense of belonging. No other area in the Quad-Cities has beautiful houses like they do here. People here look out for each other.''

The Broadway Historic Area provides a real sense of community, Ms. Woods said. ``Everyone has reached out to us and made us feel welcome,'' she said. ``I feel very safe living here.''

The first time the family walked through the late-1800s house, they fell in love with it, Mr. Woods said. The burled-wood pocket door and matching trim particularly caught his attention. Ms. Woods said the stained-glass windows stood out for her.

Their eldest son, Kade, 3, is happy to invite visitors to his room, where a wallpaper border of cars and trucks invite play. At 8 months old, their other son, Graham, finds the hardwood floors the perfect surface for rolling his walker from room to room.

The Woods also appreciate the affordable mid-$40,000s price they paid for their new home.

``There are some good deals over here, and I don't think people know it,'' Ms. Woods said. ``In a few more years, you'll have to pay dearly for homes here.''

Although the family has attended block club meetings, their time is limited, particularly Sunday afternoons when they pursue church activities.

``We'd like to get more involved with the community, but with kids at this age, it's difficult,'' Ms. Woods said.

Meanwhile, the couple is redoing the walls of a guest bedroom and plan to repair cracks in other rooms. They also want to repaint the home's mint-green exterior beige, and trim it with burgundy or hunter green. A concrete slab in the backyard, they said, is perfect for a garage.

The Rock Island Economic Growth Corp. bought the house in 1993, completely renovated it and found someone to move in on a lease-to-buy contract, executive director Dan Carmody said. When that arrangement did not work out, he said, RIECG recovered the property, did minor renovations and sold it to the Woods.

``It has been gratifying to see property values in Broadway increasing,'' Mr. Carmody said. ``Last year, we helped with two homes that sold for over $110,000. Typically, we sell to break even or at a small loss. Our mission is to revitalize neighborhoods, so we get foundation and corporate support to offset our losses.''

Since 1993, 43 houses have passed through RIEGC's hands, Mr. Carmody said. The group plans to continue the program.

The Broadway Historic Area Association has created February porch parties to promote neighborliness, hosts a Mother's Day Walk of notable restored houses and sponsors Great Unveilings, when people band together to strip siding from homes and reveal hidden features.

The Great Unveilings have received national recognition, won statewide preservation awards and drawn inquiries from across the country about organizing similar events.

The Broadway neighborhood has become a haven for artists, musicians and writers, as well as people who hold a variety of jobs.

The Rock Island Preservation Society helps new residents learn the history of their homes and neighborhoods and distributes walking-tour guides free at city hall. Trolley tours also include the Broadway Historic District.

The Woods home was built about 1893 by John R. Eberhart, a carpenter who may have lived there while he was building it, according to Preservation Society research. Mr. Eberhart died in 1893, when he fell off scaffolding at another job.

Bookkeeper Max Helpenstell moved into the residence shortly afterward, and it remained in his family's hands until the 1930s. Augusta Helpenstell, a high school teacher, was the last recorded member of that family to live there.

Sometime after 1906, two stories were added to the rear. In the early 1940s, the house was split into apartments, which was common during the war years. The Paul Geist family lived there from the 1950s through the 1980s, using it as a single-family home.

-- By Carol Loretz (February 2, 1998)

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